Surrender to Bashar Assad means almost certain death, but it is, perhaps, the right choice.
The protesters who have been turning out all year every Friday to peacefully oppose Assad’s regime risked their lives, and many died. The countrymen and soldiers who have taken up arms to oppose Assad’s heavy-handed tactics of massacre have risked their lives, and again many have died. But the citizens of Homs, among whom they have sheltered, have died too.
The journalists who infiltrated into Homs certainly chose to share the risks of the Syrian rebels. Their pleas to be evacuated while leaving the Himsi behind to die are understandable if a little bit shameful.
It may be that the citizens of Homs have also chosen to die with them. “Viurem lliures o morirem“, the motto of Catalan rebellion that translates as “live free or die,” might translate well into Arabic. But by holding out for a month, the armed insurgents, who have braved the artillery, mortars and machine guns of Assad’s loyal army, have forced that death on them.
The insurgents sheltered in Homs. They must have suspected that young Dr. Assad would treat Homs as his father and uncle treated Hama 30 years ago and pound it flat. But still they stayed in Homs. And just as it did in Hama 30 years ago, the Syrian Army cordon isn’t letting anyone leave. The citizens of Homs are to serve as an object lesson to the people of Syria that sheltering enemies of the regime brought death.
Perhaps the insurgents calculated that the world would not stand by and watch Homs smashed. Perhaps they calculated that just as NATO helped Libyan insurgents they would help Syrian insurgents. Perhaps they thought that Moscow would not give Damascus carte blanche as they have in the past.
Urban terrain is difficult for conventional armies. Perhaps the insurgents calculated that their chances were best if, like the Chechen rebels did to the Russians in 1995, they drew the Syrian Arab Army into a losing urban battle.
They miscalculated. The United Nations did not interfere in a dictator’s iron-fisted actions against a rebellion. Of course the UN didn’t: it never does. Of course the rest of the world stood by: it has been accepting Syrian repression for generations. The foreign ministers who today abominate Russia’s and China’s Security Council vetoes were not putting much pressure on Assad two years ago.
The way we handled Libya skewed their judgement. The recognition of a ragtag band of rebels as the government of Libya gave precedence to violent insurgency over other means of political change. Putting the mighty air forces and special forces of NATO at their disposal made it possible for an insurgency to do in months what would ordinarily take years. We made a mockery of our UN mandate, destroying Libyan armor and artillery when we had asked for a no-fly zone, and the Syrian insurgents thought we would do the same for them.
But salvation didn’t come from France or Britain, and the insurgents stayed in Homs.
Did they have a choice?
Would leaving the city to face certain death have been possible? Would dying at their own hands to save the people of Homs have been an option?
Has their dogged determination spelled the doom of their noncombatant fellow Syrians?
The media report mounting international pressure on Assad. But apart from moving his Republican Guard closer to Damascus, Assad shows no sign that the pressure is getting to him. And there is no hint of pressure on the insurgents to give up. We call on Assad to implement a cease-fire, but he’s winning — so why should he stop now? We’re asking the wrong people to hold their fire.
Surrendering means certain death for the insurgents, but at what point should they accept the fact that by fighting on they are killing people who have no choice? What are the tenets of an ethical insurgency?
The embattled rebels of Homs have shown that they are ready to die for Syria’s freedom. Perhaps the time has come for them to do so.